York Stage take Songs From The Settee out of the home and into Theatre @41 UPDATE

TONIGHT’s opening performance of York Stage’s Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage has sold out.

Only a handful of tickets are still available across the next three nights at Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, where director/producer is staging the series in the wake of a hit series of online shows. Hurry, hurry to book at yorkstagemusicals.com.

Briggs and his York production company never let the first pandemic lockdown grind them down, instead bringing together their performers, musicians and technicians remotely for a streamed concert season that played out over ten weeks under the title of Songs From The Settee.

“The idea was to keep the city entertained with top-quality musical theatre while we were in uncharted territory,” says Nik. “We thought the weekly publications would last three to four weeks, but before we knew it, we were at ten!

“We were blown away and driven by our friends and followers, who were engaging with the series and sending us messages, saying how we were helping them get through the week.”

The first online recording, Heroes All Around, was released on April 9 2020. “So, it felt like the perfect date, one year later, to announce what we’d be bringing to our audiences as theatres reopen with social distancing from May 17: Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage,” says Nik.

“From May 20 to 23, we have two different concerts that will run back to back under the same title at 7.30pm each evening.

“Musical director Jess Douglas will start the ball rolling with her band and some of York Stage’s finest vocal talents on May 20 and 21, before passing the baton to Stephen Hackshaw, who will bring in a new band and showcase more of the York Stage talent pool on May 22 and 23.”

The event will be staged in the Covid-secure John Cooper Studio at Theatre@41 on Monkgate, where audiences will be seated at cabaret tables, socially distanced from other bubbles around the studio. Drinks and refreshments will be served throughout the show with a table-service offering.

“Having produced a socially distanced pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 over Christmas, we know we can bring a show with full Covid compliance to the venue successfully and very much look forward to doing so,” says Nik.

Nik Briggs: York Stage artistic director

Here CharlesHutchPress fires off a fusillade of questions for a round of quickfire responses from artistic director Nik Briggs:

What will be the format of each concert? Will each one have a separate theme?
“Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage will bring some of the our online performances to the stage for the first time, alongside lots of other musical theatre and pop songs.

“There will be some group numbers of course, but the main part of the evenings will be made up of a series of cabaret/live lounge-type sets that will see our performers take to the stage solo with a collection of songs that mean something to them! 

“Throughout lockdown, we saw a lot of people setting up their ring lights and creating mini- recording studios in their homes in order to continue to create and be creative and the evenings are set to celebrate the tenacity performers showed across the industry and the work they created in lockdown.

“I often say to younger performers who I work with, ‘Sing like you sing in your bedroom mirror and now it’s time to see what that mantra brings from our older performers!”

Will Jess and Stephen decide on each concert’s content or will you be involved too?

“These shows will be a real collaboration between the artists, musical directors and myself due to the nature of the evening.”  

Who will be the singers for Jess’s shows and Stephen’s shows?

“On May 20 and 21, Jess will be working alongside Sophie Hammond, Lauren Sheriston, Joanne Theaker and some recent graduates.

“On May 22 and 23, Stephen will be returning to the musical director’s chair after a year for his concerts and he’ll be working with Grace Lancaster, Conor Mellor, Damien Poole, Emily Ramsden and, again, recent grads.

“Taking part across the four nights will be graduates Stephanie Bolsher, Holly Smith and Talia Firth, who have all performed with us previously, and Elodie Lawry, who will be graduating from the University of York this year.”

How will the stage be dressed for each show?  What will be the dress code for the performers?
“Well, we’re indoors this time, so we’ll not need as many layers as when we had our sell-out shows in Rowntree Park last August and September. Umbrellas certainly not called for! “There’s is no real dress code for this one though; our performers will be dressed to make them feel suitably fabulous and ready to entertain.” 

Just wondering: will there be a settee (or ‘sofa’ as my mother has always insisted I should say) on stage?

“Of course! How could we have Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage without a settee? I joked that we should maybe have a sacrificial burning or destruction of the settee at the end of each show to symbolise Boris’s plans that these reopenings will be very much irreversible.

“The venue will be beautifully lit again by Adam Moore and his Tech 24:7 team.”

 
What did you learn from mounting the Songs From The Settee shows online series; will “streaming” continue to play a role in York Stage’s work?

“Who knows. What I think it showed was yet again York Stage are adaptable. We responded and worked hard to ensure we continued and provided top-notch entertainment for the city, even in the darkest, hardest times for theatre.

“As you yourself have often commented in reviews, we really aim to set the bar high with everything we do as a producer in York. We are unique in that we proudly sit between others in the city where we continually mix professional performers and production teams with only the best of York’s community actors.

“That is what makes us exciting and ensures we are are able to bring huge West End and Broadway titles to the city, alongside smaller concerts, plays and studio pieces, which all have high production values, the best performances and stories that are filled with spirit and heart.” 

York Stage Musicals return to Rowntree Park igloo for Jukebox Divas concerts UPDATED

From Caribbean cruise-ship crooning in spring to York igloo in late-summertime: Conor Mellor performing at the August 23 performance of York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park. Picture: Jess Main

YORK Stage are heading back to the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre from September 18 to 20, building on the sold-out success of last month’s debut open-air concerts by staging Jukebox Divas.

York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park marked the company’s first ever outdoor venture, when six professional performers with YSM history, Joanne Theaker, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Richard Upton, Emily Ramsden and Conor Mellor, performed with Jessica Douglas’s band from August 23 to 25.

Conor, back in York from singing on the international cruise-ship circuit, returns for YSM show number two, joined by Dan Conway, Sophie Hammond, Grace Lancaster and Eleanor Leaper.

York Stage Musicals performers aglow with the joy of performing to an audience at last, after the lockdown hiatus, at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Producer and director Nik Briggs says: “We really were blown away by the reaction to our York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park concerts last month. To bring live musical theatre back to the city really was an honour and to sell out so quickly and feel the buzz that surrounded the concerts was just crazy!

“I knew, stood there watching the show, that we had to keep going, we had to do more…especially as we’d joked originally that we’d been compelled to do a thing, something, anything. This time we feel the need to do another thing.”

Jukebox Divas will celebrate the art of the Jukebox musical. “With music from shows such as We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! and more modern releases like & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, audiences will be entertained with vocal tributes to artists such as Elvis Presley, Queen, Meat Loaf, Katy Perry, Carole King and many more,” says Nik.

York Stage director and producer Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

York Stage musical director Jessica Douglas again will lead a live band on stage from her keyboards, backing the latest line-up of professional performers. “One of my hardest things to do last time was to decide who to choose to perform from all the professional talent that has worked with York Stage over the past few years; there are so many brilliant performers who I wanted to bring back!” says Nik.

“I had hoped to do two shows originally but only having three nights at first, this wasn’t possible, so when we were able to secure a second slot I knew straight away who to ask.”

Step forward Dan Conway (York Stage: Ghost; UK tour: Kinky Boots, where he understudied and played the male lead); Sophie Hammond (York Stage: Footloose;  now back from training in musical theatre in New York), Grace Lancaster (York Stage: Footloose and Whistle Down The Wind; UK tour: Footloose; Watermill: Assassins; Eastbourne: Return To The Forbidden Planet); Eleanor Leaper (York Stage: Joseph; BBC’s Pitch Battle finalist) and Conor Mellor (York Stage: Rock Of Ages; international cruise vocalist).

“I knew, stood there watching the show, that we had to keep going, we had to do more,” says producer Nik Briggs, explaining why York Stage Musicals will perform in Rowntree Park again this month. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Delighted with how well the first show went after three fast-moving weeks of preparation and rehearsal, followed by stage assembly in only two hours on a Sunday afternoon, Nik says: “Audiences can again expect to be wowed by brilliant sound and lighting from Adam Moore and his Tech247 team. The giant igloo stage covering will be back to glow like a Technicolor beacon in the heart of the park once more.

“We’re again working to ensure the safety of our performers, staff and of course audience in the planning of this event. We’re remaining up to date and working to ensure everything we do is guided and informed by City of York Council and the current Government guidance as the event approaches.

“We’ve had so many compliments about the brilliant front-of-house team and a lot of audience members messaged to say how safe they felt watching the show. This was one of the biggest compliments of all. We know for lots of people it was their first outing in months, so for them to feel safe and comfortable was great.”

Hitting the heights: Richard Upton leaps onto a chair in a high spot of the York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park concert last month. Picture: Jess Main

As with last month’s shows, to ensure they can seat everyone and maintain suitable social distancing of two metres between groups, York Stage have taken the decision to sell spaces for a “Bubble Blanket” for families or support bubbles to sit in, rather than sell individual tickets.

“These spaces are positioned to make sure there’s a two-metre gap minimum between the spaces in every direction while keeping the audience three metres away from the performers,” says Nik. “We’ve created two sizes of ‘Bubble Blanket’ spaces: one holds up to three people and a larger one holds four to six people. Please note, no physical blanket is provided, but you can bring your own or a camping chair.”

Performances will start at 7pm and run for 90 minutes without an interval.  Tickets: available only online at www.yorkstagemusicals.com;  Bubble Blanket Space for 1-3 people, £40; for 4-6 people, £65.

Emily Ramsden performing at last month’s York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park. Picture: Jess Main

Five questions for producer and director Nik Briggs

What did you learn from mounting your first outdoor venture last month?

“Working outside was a daunting prospect, having not done it before. Doing it , while also ensuring we were working within the ever-changing Covid guidelines, was a whole other ball to juggle.

“One thing we were certain about was we knew we wanted to give audiences the same high-quality production and performance standards that they have come to expect from a York Stage show.

“But with that comes a lot of wires, lights, instruments and of course electricity…in an outdoor area, where we can’t stop weather!

“When we arrived at our outdoor rehearsal venue in Leeds to tech the show, the weather was nothing short of torrential. Driving across the A64, my heart was sinking but, with the brilliant team of theatre professionals we work with, we came away from that day knowing that our planning and preparation had left us ready to succeed: ,we could do this in (nearly) all weathers!

Ashley Standland in the solo spotlight at last month’s open-air concert. Picture: Jess Main

“We were lucky to have great weather up to the final show when it was raining all day through to ten minutes into the show, but the audience were brilliant! They all showed up with waterproofs and wellies and really got into what we renamed our festival version of the concert! So the biggest lesson was to not be scared of rain!”

Are you doing anything differently this time?

“It’s a whole new set of songs, nearly a full set of new singers – Conor [Mellor] managed to wangle his way back in again – and a new band. We really wanted to reach out and help as many people as possible with the concerts when those who work in our industry have had such a tough time. There may be a few extra surprises this time around but we’re still working on those at the moment!”

How are you conducting rehearsals? On Zoom? In a room, socially distanced?

“Like last time, rehearsals are happening in a range of ways. There is lots of independent learning of harmonies etc, where we have sent out recordings to the performers, so we only have to come together to piece all the parts together and keep contact to a minimum.

“When we are together social distancing, temperature checks and hand sanitiser are all aplenty! We keep at least two metres apart and never sing face to face to also mitigate any risk.”

Joanne Theaker centre stage at York Stage Musicals’ first outdoor performance. Picture: Jess Main

Should other theatre companies be more adventurous, like you, and crack on with finding ways of getting out there and performing, despite Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s caution over when theatres can re-open fully?

“As long as people are being sensible, following the guidelines and keeping safe, then, yes, of course people should be pushing forward! It’s not easy, there is a hell of a lot of risk, but it’s certainly worth it.

“People can go sit in restaurants and bars so I really don’t see why, with social distancing and if it’s financially viable, we shouldn’t be producing?

“If any city can produce work in these weird times, it is York, where we have a strong history of successfully mixing professional and community casts. Damien Cruden really led the way with this in the city – when he was artistic director of York Theatre Royal – and in fact was the inspiration for the way I have ran York Stage over the past seven years.

Emily Ramsden, left, Joanne Theaker and May Tether keep their distance in the Rowntree Park igloo

“There really is enough professional talent locally to make it work in some way, as shown by our Rowntree Park concerts, York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up Patio On The Patio series and Engine House Theatre’s Park Bench Theatre shows.

“My biggest fear for the future, though, is that we are going to be sat with our larger venues sitting empty and artists all around the city desperate to work.”

The definition of ‘Diva’ is: noun: ‘a famous female singer of popular music’…or ‘a self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please (typically used of a woman)...but your Jukebox Divas show brazenly has a cast of three women and three men. Outrageous! Explain!

“Charles, it’s 2020, you can be whatever you want to be…and looking back, the men I’ve worked with are often way bigger divas! And no, I’m not naming any names!”